Last updated: March 29. 2014 10:48PM - 3314 Views
By - smocarsky@civitasmedia.com

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Wilkes-Barre has the most residents of any Luzerne County town that will see considerable hikes in their flood insurance premiums this year, data show.

The data also show apparent inequities in premiums paid in some municipalities relative to the claims paid out historically.

Of the 8,569 properties in Luzerne County covered by flood insurance in 2012, 1,069 had flood insurance rates subsidized by the federal government, according to federal data culled by the Associated Press. Most if not all of those 1,069 policies cover homes or businesses built before there were many rules about building close to rivers and streams.

When news reached Luzerne County that Congress passed the Biggs-Waters Act in 2012, which would require all property owners to pay flood insurance rates based on the actual risk of flooding, some area folks learned that their premiums would increase by thousands of dollars.

The law’s intent was to shore up a deficit in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) which was running huge deficits.

But after public outcry, Congress recently passed the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, which will spread out premium increases over a number of years.

Still, policies covering primary residences could see annual increases in premiums of up to 18 percent, and policies for businesses and second homes will see 25-percent hikes until the NFIP deficit is shored up.

Wilkes-Barre has the most properties with subsidized policies of any municipality in Luzerne County — 409, which represents 22 percent of all flood insurance policies on properties in the city in 2012, according to AP data.

Of those 409 policies, 359 cover primary residences.

And while only 51 policies were subsidized in Shickshinny, where major devastation occurred during 2011 flooding, that number represents more than half of all policies in force in 2012.

Other local data collected by the AP show different levels of payouts on flood insurance policies.

For example, the total amount in premiums paid by Wilkes-Bare policyholders in 2012 was $1.43 million and the total paid out in claims to Wilkes-Barre policyholders since the city joined the NFIP was $4.94 million.

Compare that to Shickshinny, where policyholders paid a total of $106,781 in 2012 premiums, and the total in payouts to Shickshinny policyholders since the municipality joined the NFIP was $9.31 million.

And while West Pittston policyholders paid a total of $343,988 in premiums that year, policyholders received $27.67 million in payouts from the program since the municipality joined the NFIP.

Even after the flood insurance premium increases go into effect, some believe inequities will still exist.

Many West Pittston residents feel that the major devastation their community saw in the 2011 flood was exacerbated by the construction of the Wyoming Valley dike system, which protects Wilkes-Barre and nearby communities from a substantial flood threat.

They believe the protection by that the dike system, which was paid for mostly with federal dollars, enables property owners in other Wyoming Valley communities to pay lower flood insurance rates, but it will cause their rates to skyrocket, as their flood risk has increased.

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